Twaun, in his own words: “I came out to my parents early in 2011. I was 26 years old and four years in to only the second serious relationship I’ve had in my adult life; second to the years I spent with the mother of my, now, 7-year-old daughter. When I came out to my parents, I don’t recall feeling a great deal of anxiety or pressure to do so. I had just returned home, a day or so earlier, from a funeral I attended in Jackson, MS. In a tragic turn of events, my daughter’s older sister lost her life in a horrific murder-suicide. The event profoundly affected my family and I think we were all struggling to come to terms with how something like this could happen. The days after were pretty quiet though on this particular one, I couldn’t help but think about my daughter and the fragility of life. Then the phone rang; it was my father. He expressed concerns that he and my mother shared about what they perceived as my dejected demeanor, our strained relationship, and their general lack of knowledge about my life in Washington, DC. He said that “if anything ever happened” to me that they would be completely “in the dark” and not know what to tell anyone about where I spent time, what I did for leisure, or who comprised my inner circle and professional network. In that moment, I actually remember looking out the window of the apartment I shared with my male partner and very calmly decided that it was time to discuss my sexual orientation with both of my parents. My partner and I were considering a life together, and in my mind, it was important for my family to know that and hopefully establish a relationship with him. Although my father didn’t anticipate that I — his only son — was about to tell him and my mother I was gay, his general reasoning resonated with me and I believed he was right – my parents deserved to know for both our sakes. They deserved to know fully who I was so that we could begin what I knew would be the difficult task of rebuilding our relationship. And although I had convinced myself that I didn’t need to tell them, I realized that to be emotionally mature, I needed to be straightforward. I didn’t have anything to be ashamed of and in not telling them, I was implicitly conceding that my sexuality was a source of shame.
At first, my parents took the news calmly. They were jilted but said that they still loved me. Of course, I never believed that my parents would ever abandon or disown me. As it had been with so many other issues, our dynamic on difficult situations was always a battle of wills. Since that day, they have and continue to go through different stages of grief. It is a type of grieving process when parents have to surrender their vision of the life they thought their child would have and accept the reality of the adult in front of them. In the initial conversation, I had to assure them that my sexual orientation did not really define or dictate my entire existence and that I was still the person they’ve always known. I’m very hardworking, passionate, and dedicated to public service. I’m a loving father. I’m a loyal friend. I’m my own man, trying the very best I can to build the best life on a solid foundation. I told them that I was not a wild caricature of a gay man they may have seen on television or encountered in life. I had to discuss with them the varying ranges of sexual expression and identity. I told them that I did not have HIV, that I was not promiscuous, and that I still, continue to “just say no” (being the Reagan-era child of the 80s D.A.R.E. Program).
My relationship with my parents continues to be a work in progress. But I think this is common, especially for young gay men. You endure difficult times, but it is in those trials that your relationship can be strengthened and evolve. As much as we drive each other crazy at times, we can’t help but love one another – that is our legacy and tradition.
As it turns out, my relationship, my first with a man and one of the reasons I initially wanted to come out to my parents, ended last year. While the circumstances surrounding the situation were deeply painful, I’ve concluded that it was really the necessary ending to what has been the full arc of my twenties. Today, I’m 29 and I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin. I am 100 percent present in my existence. I know what I want and I know what I have to contribute. And most importantly, I honor my worth and trust myself more than ever before. The last 10 years taught me how to be serious about “who I am,” and it changed how I perceived others. I’m simply “me,” authentic in my truth and honoring the 10 commitments I made to myself on my birthday last April (in no particular order):
1. Live life on your own terms, do not move in reverse, stay hopeful
2. Trust your instincts, trust yourself, and never settle
3. Do not fear love, vulnerability is the greatest act of courage
4. Know your worth, respect your value
5. Take vacations, travel more
6. Continue to follow your dreams, they led you here
7. Pay it forward, be a mentor
8. Mind your associations, you become the company you keep
9. You are a good father, don’t question it
10. I’m keeping this one to myself J
Gay men experience so much in life. And oftentimes, those experiences are further shaped by societal attitudes about race and gender. I believe many gay men around the world endure a type of tragedy and hardship, but we also experience a certain kind of beauty and love. And I think, when we set aside the ways in which we divide ourselves, especially as LGBTs, we can recognize this beauty in one another – a shared and common existence. For me, being gay is about living life on my own terms and “coming out” was the conduit to this reality. I fully accept and love myself, feel great about my relationships and am ready to embrace all of life’s possibilities.”